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Which States Have Produced The Most Presidential Nominees?

One side effect to the huge (and growing) scale of the 2020 Democratic field is geographical diversity. The candidates hail from everywhere from Vermont to Hawaii, and every region of the country is represented by at least two candidates who reside there. But, historically, most Democratic and Republican presidential nominees have come from just a handful of states, while individual parties have ignored entire regions for decades on end.

I used the National Archives’s historical election results to find the official home states of every Democratic and Republican presidential nominee since the founding of each party1 — that is, the state where a nominee lived when he or she ran for president (not necessarily the state where he or she was born). If the same person was nominated for president multiple times, he was counted multiple times.2 And for you history nerds out there, for the 1860 election, I counted both the Northern and Southern Democratic candidates. We grouped the states using the Census Bureau’s definitions of which states are in each region. Obviously, an exercise like this favors states with bigger populations, as well as ones that entered the Union earlier, but there are still some big disparities. The full results are here:

Most presidential nominees come from a few states

Democratic and Republican presidential nominees since the founding of each party, by state and Census Bureau region

Northeast
State Democrats Republicans Total Nominees
New York 15
10
25
Massachusetts 3
2
5
New Jersey 3
0 3
Pennsylvania 2
0 2
Maine 0 1
1
New Hampshire 1
0 1
Northeast total 24
13
37
Midwest
State Democrats Republicans Total Nominees
Illinois 5
4
9
Ohio 1
7
8
Nebraska 3
0 3
Indiana 0 2
2
Kansas 0 2
2
Michigan 1
1
2
Minnesota 2
0 2
Missouri 1
0 1
South Dakota 1
0 1
Midwest total 14
16
30
South
State Democrats Republicans Total Nominees
Texas 1
4
5
Tennessee 4
0 4
Arkansas 2
0 2
Georgia 2
0 2
Kentucky 1
0 1
West Virginia 1
0 1
South total 11
4
15
West
State Democrats Republicans Total Nominees
California 0 6
6
Arizona 0 2
2
West total 0 8
8

If the same person was nominated multiple times, he is counted multiple times. In the election of 1860, both the Northern Democratic and Southern Democratic nominees are counted. The Democratic Party was founded between the 1824 and 1828 elections, and the Republican Party was founded in 1854.

Source: National Archives

The most common state for presidential nominees is New York, and it’s not even close. Democrats have nominated someone from New York 15 times, while Republicans have done so 10 times. In the 2016 election, both nominees hailed from the Empire State, which broke a streak of presidential elections without a nominee from New York that went back to 1972. Before that, though, candidates from New York were extremely popular picks, especially during the Gilded Age, when New York was both the largest state in the country and a vital swing state. In a distant second and third place are Illinois and Ohio, with nine and eight nominees respectively. Thanks in large part to the influence of GOP boss Mark Hanna, Republicans nominated someone from Ohio for president seven times in a 12-election stretch around the turn of the century.

Of the eight currently most populous states, only Florida has never produced a presidential nominee. Florida was pretty small for its first 100 years of existence, but that it has produced zero nominees is still a little surprising considering that it is now such a swingy and electoral-vote-rich state. Virginia also doesn’t show up on the list even though four of America’s first five presidents called Old Dominion home.

Only four Republican nominees in history have come from the South (all from Texas). That may seem surprising considering the GOP’s dominance in the region today, but remember that throughout most of U.S. history, the South was solidly Democratic turf. Indeed, Republicans didn’t nominate their first Southerner until George H.W. Bush in 1988.

However, I think the most interesting takeaway from this data is that the Democratic Party has never nominated someone from the West for president. (It also hasn’t nominated a Westerner for vice president.) You might explain this based on the fact that the West didn’t have a lot of political influence until the 20th century, but that hasn’t stopped the Republicans from nominating a Westerner for president eight times. But the Democratic Party’s Westerner-less streak could end this cycle. Four 2020 hopefuls — Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper and Jay Inslee — hail from Western states.

That’s a lot of candidates from the West, but actually it’s roughly proportional to the region’s Democratic voting power. To see how geographically representative the current crop of presidential candidates is of the Democratic Party, I compared the regional distribution of their home states to the regional distribution of Democratic votes in the last presidential election. Out of the 14 candidates we are treating as “major” at this time,3 29 percent are from the West. That’s pretty close to the 24 percent of Hillary Clinton’s nationwide vote share that the West accounted for in 2016.

Do 2020 Democratic candidates track the 2016 vote?

Share of Hillary Clinton’s votes in the 2016 presidential election by Census Bureau region vs. share of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates from each region

Share of …
Region Clinton Vote 2020 Dem. candidates Difference
Northeast 21% 36% +15
Midwest 22 14 -7
South 33 21 -12
West 24 29 +4

Sources: U.S Census Bureau, Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, U.S. Senate, news reports

In other regions, however, the geographic distribution of Democratic candidates in 2020 doesn’t sync up as well with the geographic distribution of the Democratic electorate in 2016. For example, the South produced the most Clinton votes in 2016,4 yet only three 2020 Democrats — Julian Castro, John Delaney and Beto O’Rourke — live there. Only Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar call the Midwest home, although two out of 14 (14 percent) is not that far off from the 22 percent of Clinton voters who live in the Midwest. Finally, the Northeast is way overrepresented. It is home to five 2020 candidates (including two New Yorkers — Kirsten Gillibrand and Andrew Yang) but has the fewest Clinton voters of any region (even though she ran ahead of Trump in the region overall). If Democrats nominate yet another Northeasterner, the party would reach an imbalanced milestone: Exactly half (25 of 50) of its historical nominees will have hailed from the region. As for milestones on the state level, seven candidates — Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, Bernie Sanders and the four Westerners we discussed above — could make history as the first Democratic nominee from their home state.

Footnotes

  1. That’s sometime between the 1824 and 1828 elections for the Democratic Party and 1854 for the Republicans.

  2. For example, Democrats are credited with nominating a Nebraskan for president three times even though it was William Jennings Bryan all three times.

  3. We’ll have an article explaining how we’re determining “major” later this week.

  4. This may seem surprising given that Trump won 165 of the 194 electoral votes in this region, but the South is the most populous region overall, so it had the most Clinton voters and the most Trump voters.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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